by Al Maxey

Issue #279 ------- December 13, 2006
Lofty mountains are full of springs;
great hearts are full of tears.

Joseph Roux {1834-1886}

The Tears of Jesus
A Reflective Analysis

Job, who was certainly no stranger to the many afflictions and tragedies of life, lamented, "Man, who is born of woman, is of few days and full of trouble" [Job 14:1]. "Man is born to trouble" just as assuredly "as the sparks fly upward" [Job 5:7]. Therefore, it is not surprising to find numerous accounts in Scripture of men and women, both righteous and unrighteous, weeping over the various circumstances and situations that come upon them during the course of their journey through life. When Nehemiah learned of the deplorable condition of Jerusalem, and of the remnant who had returned there, he "sat down and wept and mourned for days" [Neh. 1:4]. When Sarah died, Abraham mourned and wept for her [Gen. 23:2]. When Jacob was presented with the horrifying evidence that his beloved son Joseph had been slain by a wild beast, "he wept for him ... and refused to be comforted" [Gen. 37:35]. Joseph wept for his father Jacob when the latter died [Gen. 50:1], Isaiah wept bitterly over the impending destruction of his people [Is. 22:4], as did the "weeping prophet" Jeremiah [Jer. 9:1; 13:17], Peter "went out and wept bitterly" after denying the Lord [Matt. 26:75], and on the day of judgment there will be much "weeping and gnashing of teeth" [Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28].

We could quite easily go on and on with endless examples, both from the Scriptures and from our own personal experiences, of times of trouble which brought forth a flood of tears, which bespeak even deeper inner emotional turmoil. None of us are strangers to tears; none of us are immune from seasons of grief; they are a part of life. They are evidence of our humanity. Thus, it is quite significant to note the tears of Jesus, as they speak clearly to the fact that the Word "became flesh and dwelt among us" [John 1:14], experiencing the same challenges of the flesh as we do. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" [Heb. 4:15]. "For He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered" [Heb. 2:18]. "He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" [Isaiah 53:3].

In spite of the above statement from the prophecy of Isaiah, in which our Lord is portrayed as the Suffering Servant, a man of sorrows and familiar with the many emotions associated with times of grief and tribulation, when a search is made of the New Covenant writings one will discover only three times when Jesus is said to have actually shed tears. We shall examine each of these events in their chronological order. Each incident also progresses in intensity, and each reveals a vital aspect of the nature of the God-man: Jesus the Messiah.

John 11:35

Jesus was teaching in an area beyond the Jordan, the same location where John had first been baptizing those who came to him, and many were accepting His teachings [John 10:40-42]. At this time one of His dearest friends, a man named Lazarus, became gravely ill. The two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus that their brother was ill. "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick" [John 11:3]. Jesus did indeed love this entire family [vs. 5], however rather than hastening to the village of Bethany, where they lived, Jesus delayed in the region beyond the Jordan. In fact, "He stayed two days longer in the place where He was" [vs. 6]. Some of the disciples undoubtedly believed this delay to be wise. After all, the Jews in Judea were plotting His death there [vs. 8]. When Jesus finally announced He planned to go to the home of Lazarus and his sisters, they tried to dissuade Him. Nevertheless, Jesus had a mission to accomplish -- "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep" [vs. 11]. The disciples were confused by His reference to "sleep," so Jesus therefore said to them in plain words, "Lazarus is dead" [vs. 14]. Here we clearly see the omniscience of our Lord.

When Jesus and His disciples arrived at the little village of Bethany, which was just two miles from the city of Jerusalem, He discovered that Lazarus "had already been in the tomb four days" [vs. 17]. A good number of the Jews were there to console the two sisters in the loss of their brother, providing a type of grief support group. Some commentators have assumed that these others were merely "hired mourners," however I see no evidence of such in the passage. Indeed, just the opposite. We are informed that these Jews were with the sisters in the house, and they were consoling them [vs. 31]. There is no indication in the text that I can see suggesting their weeping was "bought and paid for." Some interpreters have suggested that when Jesus later become troubled in spirit [vs. 33] it was over their hypocrisy. I reject that theory. It is my conviction that the weeping of those who had come to console these sisters was genuine; nothing in the text indicates otherwise.

But, we're getting somewhat ahead of ourselves. When it was learned that Jesus was just outside Bethany, Martha left Mary in the house with the mourners and went out to meet Him [vs. 20]. She immediately confronted Jesus -- "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" [vs. 21]. Some see this as a statement of great faith in the ability of Jesus; others see it as accusatory, condemning His delay. Perhaps there were aspects of both present in the grief-stricken heart of Martha as she made this declaration to her friend and her Lord. She certainly had not lost faith in Him, for she then immediately proclaimed, "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You" [vs. 22]. Just what this sister of Lazarus expected at this point is hard to say. Jesus told her Lazarus would "rise again" [vs. 23], but Martha saw this as a distant reality -- "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day" [vs. 24]. Such assurance, though comforting [1 Thess. 4:13-18], did not alleviate the grief of the present. Her brother was dead, and it appeared he would remain in that condition until the last day. Indeed, his body had already begun to decompose [vs. 39].

At this time, Martha leaves Jesus and goes to get Mary. Then these two, followed by the mourners, came out to meet Jesus. When they arrived, Mary "fell at His feet, saying to Him, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died'" [vs. 32]. "When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled" [vs. 33, NASB]. This is the passage that has troubled some biblical scholars. Great debate has arisen over the centuries as to what is meant by the two statements describing the emotions of Jesus. Notice some other renderings of this phrase:

Charles Williams, in his New Testament in the Language of the People, says that Jesus "sighed in sympathy and shook with emotion." And there are many more variations. Two things are said about Jesus in this passage, and both provide us with great insight into His emotional state at this time. First of all, Jesus "was deeply moved in spirit." This comes from the Greek word embrimaomai, which literally means "to snort" (the sound a horse often makes). It signifies: "to be greatly fretted or agitated; an expression of indignation" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 134]. The word is used again of Jesus just a few verses later as He was on His way to the tomb of His beloved friend Lazarus -- "Jesus therefore again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb" [vs. 38]. Here, I am convinced, we have some insight given into the meaning of the phrase "in spirit" in the previous passage: it refers to an emotion within His inner being. But what exactly was this intense emotion, and to what or whom was it directed? According to the various translations He was upset, angry; He sighed heavily and groaned within Himself. Why?!

Before answering, we need to look at the second part of the passage. We are told Jesus "was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled" [vs. 33]. This is the Greek word tarasso, which means "to be agitated, stirred up, troubled; disquieted, unsettled, consternated." Some have said our Lord was both agitated and irritated; angry and troubled. The object of these emotions is not stated, which has led to enormous speculation. Some feel He was upset over the weeping of the sisters, perhaps troubled by what seemed to be their lack of faith in Him; perhaps even irritated that they had both confronted Him for not having come sooner. Others suggest He was agitated over the hypocrisy of hired mourners (if such they were). Some even suggest He was irritated with Himself for feeling sorrow, when He knew that in just moments Lazarus would be raised amid great celebration. Frankly, I discount all of these theories, as do most reputable biblical scholars.

The far more likely explanation, in my studied opinion, is that these two Greek terms "expressed His resentment against the ravages of death that had entered the human world because of sin" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 119]. Jesus was angry, upset, and troubled over the misery that sin and death had inflicted upon mankind, and in this case upon His dear friends. Death is an enemy, and Jesus was here facing it down over the body of a loved one! That this, rather than the sisters or the mourners, was His source of agitation is further validated, in the minds of most, by these emotions again surfacing as he made His way to the tomb [vs. 38]. It was the great enemy Death that had stirred Him within the deepest parts of His being, and perhaps these inner stirrings were exacerbated by the knowledge that in just a very short time He Himself would face that same enemy at the cross, and He Himself would be laid within a tomb. Yes, Jesus was stirred up, He was angry, He was looking for a fight. "Where have you laid him?!" [vs. 34], He demanded. He then headed for the tomb of Lazarus with a fierce resolve -- He would take on death, and He would defeat it.

Sandwiched between verses 33 and 38, in which we perceived the above strong emotions, is the shortest verse in the entire New Testament -- "Jesus wept" [vs. 35]. Here we see a completely different emotion. There are several different words in both Hebrew and Greek that denote weeping or crying, but the word used here is dakruo, and in the NT writings "it is used only of the Lord Jesus" [W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words]. This touching term simply signifies the quiet, silent shedding of tears. "Silent tears trickle from His eyes" [Lenski, p. 809]. This was not a loud wailing; such would be signified by the Greek word klaio. Rather, this was a controlled display of genuine, heartfelt compassion for the grief of those whom He loved dearly. "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" [Rom. 12:15]. His loved ones were weeping, and the Savior wept with them and for them. They were not tears of despair, but tears of deep devotion. Even though He knew that great joy for them was just moments away, yet He truly felt their grief ... and He shared it with them.

Luke 19:41

The events of the final week of Jesus' earthly life began with The Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem, where in just a matter of days He would sacrifice His life for the sins of mankind. As He approached the city, riding upon a donkey, "He saw the city and wept over it" [Luke 19:41]. This is the Greek word klaio, which means "to weep audibly; any loud expression of grief" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1186]. This is in marked contrast to the word dakruo, which means "to cry silently" [ibid]. The latter Jesus did as He made His way to the tomb of Lazarus. The former is what He displayed as He made His way to the city of Jerusalem. His emotions on this second occasion of tears were more pronounced; more dramatic; far more visible and audible. It was a loud outpouring of an inner distress. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words defines this term as "to wail," calling it an "external expression of grief."

In the three verses that follow [Luke 19:42-44] Jesus expresses the basis of His great outpouring of distress over Jerusalem. "You did not recognize the time of your visitation" [vs. 44]. They had failed to perceive Him as their Messiah. Therefore, as Jesus looked upon the city of David, we again see His omniscience. He looked ahead, with perfect foreknowledge, to the time of another "visitation" -- when the city would be attacked and leveled by the Roman army (which would not occur for another 40 years). Perceiving the great misery that would befall this city and its inhabitants, Jesus gave vent to the fullness of the distress within Him. Our Lord wailed over the city. He had come proclaiming grace and freedom, yet they had turned away from Him, embracing instead their bondage to Law. "O, that all people to whom the Word of Grace is proclaimed would remember at all times the bitter tears of the Lord over Jerusalem!" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 372].

"And there suddenly He burst into tears, weeping aloud, as one in the depths of grief. The tears of Jesus over the reprobate city of Jerusalem are the best evidence that He is sincere in His redemption for the sins of the whole world; that He wants all men to be saved. Because of their unbelief and hard-heartedness, the time of grace was rapidly coming to a close, and the salvation which they had so foolishly sought by means of works was as far from them as ever" [ibid]. Dr. Gerhard Kittel observes, "He Himself broke into tears when He saw the city because it saw in Him an enemy, whereas He was the only One who could bring it lasting peace" [Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, p. 722]. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together; as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" [Luke 13:34]. So many today still embrace Law over Grace, and in so doing they break the heart of our Lord, grieving His Holy Spirit. Dear friend, if you are seeking justification by works, Jesus weeps and wails over your rejection of His precious gift of grace!

Hebrews 5:7

The third and final mention of the tears of Jesus within the inspired New Covenant writings is to be found outside of the gospel accounts. Indeed, the four gospel records (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) do not even mention these tears. Thus, there is some speculation as to which of two possible events the writer of Hebrews may be referring. "In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death" [Heb. 5:7, NASB]. The two possible occasions for these tears, and scholars are greatly divided over this matter, are: His anguish in Gethsemane prior to His arrest and His agony on the cruel cross of Calvary. Most biblical scholars favor the former, although some feel both could easily be in view.

Those who favor the view that the reference in Heb. 5:7 is to the cross, do so based on the fact "that the word 'offered' has a sacrificial sense, and must not be lightly passed over" [ibid]. The text says Jesus "offered up" prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears. These scholars feel this word employed strongly suggests the sacrifice of the Lord on the cross. Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, wrote, "The Levitical priests offered up blood sacrifices. This Priest after the order of Melchisedec offered up Himself as a blood sacrifice, but before doing this, brought another offering to God, a heart torn with anguish and suffering, a soul in which the conflict of the ages was raging. His prayer was accompanied with strong cryings and tears. Those at the foot of the cross must have heard this prayer, the strong cryings of a dying man, but they could not have seen the tears that coursed down His face, marred and disfigured by the blows of sinners, covered with blood from the crown of thorns, for the darkness covered the land and hid His sufferings from the ribald mob" [vol. 2, Hebrews in the Greek NT, p. 100].

Those scholars who favor the view that the writer has the cross in mind, also point to the fact that as Jesus suffered on that cruel implement of torture and death "He cried out with a loud voice" [Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:46]. Although this doesn't mention weeping or tears, it does point to a loud outcry, which would certainly fit the picture painted for us in Heb. 5:7. On the other hand, those who favor the interpretation that Gethsemane is in view point out that in this location just prior to His arrest He "began to be grieved and distressed" [Matt. 26:37]. He told Peter, James and John, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death" [Matt. 26:38]. "And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" [Luke 22:44]. His distress was so great that "an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him" for what was soon to come upon Him [Luke 22:43]. This too would certainly fit with the thoughts of Heb. 5:7. Thus, either event is certainly possible. Like Dr. Ellicott, I hesitate to decide between the two. Personally, I think the Hebrew writer may have had both in mind (and perhaps other occasions not even revealed unto us in the inspired writings).


Yes, in this fallen world we will be exposed to seasons of distress and grief. "In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other" [Eccl. 7:14]. The Lord has never promised us smooth sailing; He's only assured us that we shall reach the safe harbor at the end of the journey. In this life we shall shed tears, just as Jesus, the God-man, did. However, a glorious day is coming when tears will be no more! "He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces" [Isaiah 25:8]. How we all long for this day!! In Christ Jesus it will be realized; by God's grace and our faith! One day, in Him, the redeemed shall enter the New Jerusalem, where "the Lamb shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes" [Rev. 7:17]. "And God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" [Rev. 21:3-4]. "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" [Rev. 22:20].

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I'm new to your web site (I found you through John Clayton's Does God Exist? reprint of your article "The Great Belly Button Debate"). I've found your insights on women, music, CENI, drinking, etc. to be interesting and a refreshing new viewpoint. I'm looking forward to further exploration of your Reflections. Enclosed is my check for $30 for all three past volumes of your Reflections on CD, and I will also want the 2006 CD when it becomes available. Thank you, and God bless your work!

From a New Reader in Alaska:

Al, I have seen several of your thoughtful discussions and would like to have full access to them. Please email me your weekly Reflections on a continuing basis. Thanks for your approach.

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, You never cease to amaze me with how thoroughly and thoughtfully you deal with each of the subjects at hand in your Reflections. Thank you for continuing to write in such a way as to challenge me to more thoughtful reflection and analysis of God's wonderful revelation. Also, thank you ... thank you ... thank you for indexing your articles. This is an awesome blessing to those who look to your writings as a resource for biblical research.

From an Elder in Arizona:

Al, Let me say once again -- you are doing one tremendous work among God's people! You and Edward Fudge and Rick Atchley, and others! For me, it all started with Carl Ketcherside. Thanks be to God, who provides men to shine the light of His grace down through the years!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Bro. Al, Thanks for taking the time to put out your Reflections! The amount, and the quality, of the work you do is amazing! Between you and Edward Fudge (with his GracEmail) I am blessed to receive your gifts -- and I get them year round, not just at Christmas time! Merry Christmas.

From a Reader in Brussels, Belgium:

Brother Maxey, Many of us over here in Europe read your Reflections. I've just read this lady's letter to you about her anxiety over not having had a child, and her anxiety that her salvation is jeopardized. While I appreciate your compassionate exegesis on the subject, I am surprised that she would read that scripture and think it was speaking to her personally. I have one grown child, and that was unplanned. While that now grown child has been a great blessing to me, it would never have occurred to me that I had in any way distressed my God if I had chosen not to have children at all. More than that, the last thing I would have imagined would have been that I had in some way jeopardized my salvation by choosing to remain childless. Reading this lady's comments, I praised God that I did not grow up under the yoke of such a works/earning anxiety as she has described. In my whole life I never doubted God's graciousness toward me, and I always felt I was wrapped in His goodness and mercy -- with or without children.

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Bro. Maxey, Thank you very much for your article on "Congregational Outreach." Sharing with us the methods used by various churches was very helpful. There were several approaches that I hadn't considered before, but which I plan to recommend to the congregation I serve.

From a Reader in Delaware:

Bro. Al, I just read your article "Trim Not Thy Tresses." It was yet another fantastic job of countering the misguided claims of absolutists! Your commitment to reason and love is an inspiration.

From a Reader in Florida:

Bro. Al, I just read your excellent article on women and childbirth. Thank you for your study on this. I believe you to be 100% correct.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Bro. Al, I just read your last issue -- "Salvation Through Childbirth" -- and, as usual, I really enjoyed your analysis. I check out what you write about textual issues. I have a meager hard copy library for this purpose, and also some good resources on the Internet (which I increasingly use). When I checked out what you said on 1 Tim. 2:15 in these resources, your comments were supported.

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, "Salvation Through Childbirth" was another excellent study! After reading this article, it seemed to me that anyone with even a marginal knowledge of Greek could understand the meaning of the verse, yet, as you pointed out, there were several commentators who could only offer the view that it is extremely difficult to understand!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, I just finished reading again Issue #226 -- Celebrating Christmas: Do Christians Commit Sin By Observing This Holiday? -- which the reader from Ohio condemned in your last readers' section. There is nothing in the entire article to indicate you support or teach that December 25th is the actual birthday of Jesus ... quite the opposite! The reader from Ohio should learn to read. Then he had better get a grip on the meaning of love and grace. It sounds to me as if he is from one of those "only we have the Truth, and all others that don't agree with us are lost" congregations. This brother apparently does not realize that time and days are absolutely meaningless to God. He is eternal; man is the only creature to whom time/days have any meaning. God is pleased whenever His Son is held up, regardless of what "day" that may be. I personally am overjoyed any day I can hear my Lord's name used in a positive way! If December 25th is celebrated by the world around us as His birthday, and in so doing His majesty is proclaimed, then I say ... Merry Christmas!!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Bro. Al, Every time I read something like the condemnation from the reader in Ohio it just solidifies my reasons for leaving the mainline Church of Christ. Of course that reader said there was no need for you to reply ... he already knows that he, and he alone, is exactly right on everything! Pitiful. Bro. Al, keep up the great work.

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, The reader in Ohio said there was no need for you to reply. Why does that statement not surprise anyone?!! That is how these people end any challenge. So typical. So cowardly. As a little girl once said to her aunt -- who was trying to point out the fact that in order to have a friend, you must first be a friend -- "Oh Aunt Jean, quit telling me those things I don't want to hear!"

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Can you please tell me how the Holy Spirit, whom you say indwells us, transforms our lives? If we do not, or cannot, "feel" the presence of the Spirit, how can it transform our lives? I became a Christian at 36 years of age and, after preaching the gospel for 35 years, I do not feel the Spirit or see any transforming by it in my life. I would love to "feel" the presence of the Spirit and have it lead me daily in my life, but I do not feel the power of the Spirit even to help me with the lusts of the flesh.

From a Minister in Kansas:

Bro. Al, One Cup man here. Great job on 1 Tim. 2:15 ("Salvation Through Childbirth"). I'm thankful that more and more One Cuppers are now reading your weekly Reflections. Also, thanks so much for printing some of our comments. The Old Paths Advocate will not allow differing viewpoints to be presented within its pages. All of the One Cup brethren I know regard the OPA as nothing more than a control mechanism used by some in our group to control the thoughts and actions of One Cup congregations. To all the many brethren who read your Reflections, may I say this: please do not think that all One Cuppers are alike. I can assure you that many of us are not OPA puppets.

From a Reader in California:

Al, I think that your conclusion that "she will be saved through The Childbirth" (this being a reference to the birth of Christ) is really the only proper response for this particular scripture. That is the only way that it is in balance with the teachings of grace. It is truly a shame when you see some "men" twisting the Scriptures just to keep women under their thumb.

From an Elder in Colorado:

Brother Al, Isn't it amazing how "Christians" react to something different from their "normal" way of doing things?! In response to your article, in which you mentioned some of our congregation's efforts at community outreach, we received an email from a minister from a Church of Christ in the southeast. He stated that we were on our way to hell for having a Santa Breakfast and that he would be glad to work with us to get us all back on the "straight and narrow." Telling people they are going to hell because they don't believe exactly as I do is really loving, isn't it?! Thank you, brother, for your wonderful work, and please keep on doing what you are doing! May God bless you and your work.

From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, While reading your last Reflections I happened to notice the comments by a reader from Ohio regarding how observing Christmas would send someone to hell. I immediately went back and read again your Issue #226. After studying this again I can only say that on Sunday, December 24th I will preach twice, maybe three times, and in each of those lessons I will greet the audience with a Merry Christmas!! Al, I guess you and I are both headed for the same place, but I believe it is not where the reader from Ohio thinks we are headed. Keep up the good work, brother. You are food to my soul.

From a Minister in Missouri:

Dear Brother Maxey, Had it not been for the Internet, a handful of men (myself included) who were once advocates of a very legalistic, patternistic, sectarian segment of the Churches of Christ would have never come into contact with your liberating messages. Thus, we would still be in the darkness of Pharisaic legalism. Your web site, and your Reflections, have guided us to freedom in Christ. Al, my wife, who had previously only had the experience of the One Cup segment of the Church of Christ, recently said to me, "Al Maxey is very gracious, caring and thoughtful, which is something that I greatly appreciate. These are characteristics unknown in most of our brotherhood." Brother, she would never have experienced this spiritual transformation to where she is now (embracing God's grace and freedom in Christ) had it not been for my discovery of you and your writings on the Internet. I'm telling you, brother, my regret is that I didn't find your writings years ago. I would have been much better off. However, I am definitely grateful now. We are now sharing these grace-based teachings with One Cup brethren locally and in other states (California, Iowa and Ohio, just to name a few). Brother Al, we were law keepers to the core, but now we have learned how to study the Word in its true context without proof-texting. Thus, through your help, a critical dimension has been added to our study habits! Thank you!

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